Celebrating Malmsey

This is a retrospective of five Malmseys, tutored by Chris Blandy the new man at the helm of the Madeira Wine Company and includes a new vintage / frasqueira wine from 1988. At the outset Chris Blandy made the valid point that Malmsey should not be viewed as a single variety (there are so many different grapes named Malvasia) but as style of wine. Robinson et al. make the same point in the magum opus Wine Grapes: 'Malvasia is a generic name given to a wide range of distinct white-, pink-, grey-, or black-skinned varieties which share an ability to produce sweet wines high in alcohol.'   The majority of the Malvasia growing on Madeira is a grape known as Malvasia Branca de São Jorge, a variety introduced as recently as the 1970s and planted at São Jorge on the north side of the island. It bears no relation to the prized Malvasia Candida of which there are now only 3 hectares growing on Madeira.

This tasting commenced with a sample of young Malmsey from last year’s harvest and charts the evolution of the wine through 10 and 15 year old blends and colheita to the recently launched vintage or frasqueira wine.      

Vindima 2013 Malmsey

A sample drawn from stainless steel vat where is has been since last year’s harvest. It is a possible future colheita or vintage: pale colour with a dusty, earthy aroma. Seemingly rather a  simple wine with sweetness overpowered by searing acidty mid-palate, then the sweetness comes back on the finish.  Very unappetising raw Malmsey wine which serves to illustrate the transformative power of ageing. An ugly duckling which is set to become a swan. Pointless to award a mark at this stage! 

Blandy’s  Ten Year Old Malmsey ****

A blended wine with an average age of ten years: mid-deep amber, thin yellow-green rim; raisins combined with honey and butterscotch on the nose, very clean by any standard, but especially compared to the wines of yesteryear; smooth and rich initially with lovely texture and mouth-feel, richness offset by zesty acidity with butterscotch and dried figs on the finish.  Lovely balance. 120g/l residual sugar. 17.5 

Blandy’s Fifteen Year Old Malmsey ***/****

Mid-deep mahogany; not as expressive as the ten year old on the nose, rich raisiny fruit with prunes and dates; very sweet and intense, dates again, rich spicy flavours but rather soupy and lacking the freshness or poise of the ten year old. With the advent of colheita (see below), this category is being phased out by the Madeira Wine Company.   16.5

Blandy’s 1996 Colheita Malmsey ****

This wine from a single harves has spent fifteen years in cask and was lightly filtered before bottling with removes some of the colour:  pale-mid orange-amber; clean, fine but still a bit young and simple and I picked up the spirit on the nose; lovely, gentle dried apricot fruit with a touch of pepper, very pure (nothing soupy about this) with beautiful texture and mouth feel. Quince on the finish.  17

Blandy 1988 Malmsey **** / *****

This is the latest frasqueira / vintage release from Blandy’s, of which 1589 bottles were filled in May 2013. Clear, mid-amber colour; lovely, lifted pungent aromas, tawny marmalade with just a touch of black pepper; candied citrus peel on the palate and a dusting of spice, very fine with a streak of lime and grapefruit acidity running right the way through to offset the natural richness. Still a comparative youngster by Madeira standards but reassuring that wines of this calibre are still being made. It will keep forever! A very pure expression of the Malvasia grape.  18.5 


19 - 20 An outstanding wine (*****)

17 – 18 An excellent wine in its class, highly recommended (****)

15 - 16 A good wine, with much to recommend it (***)

13 - 14 An enjoyable but simple, straightforward wine (**)

10 – 12 A very ordinary wine without faults but with no great merit (*)

8 - 10 Disagreeable (no stars)

Below 8 Faulty